Bill O’Reilly will no longer be employed at Fox News, 21st Century Fox said in a statement Wednesday. The decision comes after allegations of him sexually harassing female colleagues prompted protests outside network headquarters and a mass exodus from advertisers.
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox New Channel,” the statement read.
O’Reilly had said mid-April that he was taking a vacation. The official departure from Fox is an unceremonious end for the host, who had anchored the top-rated cable news show since its inception more than 20 years ago. His stunning exit mirrors that of former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who launched Fox News in 1996 and abruptly left the network last summer amid widespread sexual harassment allegations.
Following a bombshell New York Times report earlier this indicating O’Reilly and Fox News have paid around $13 million in settlements to address complaints brought by five of his former female colleagues, advertisers began fleeing the show. Within days, more than 50 companies announced they would no longer air spots during the show.
New York magazine reported that Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of parent company 21st Century Fox, had advocated for keeping O’Reilly on board, while sons James and Lachlan had pushed for his departure.
Though 21st Century Fox had pledged to clean up Fox News following the Ailes scandal, the Times revealed that the company continued to privately settle lawsuits with O’Reilly accusers and even renewed the host’s contract, reportedly at more than $20 million a year.
The entertainment and media giant presumably stuck with O’Reilly because he has been a cash cow for Fox News. He’s the linchpin of the network’s primetime lineup and his top-rated show is major draw when it comes to negotiating fees to carry the channel with cable and satellite providers. And “The O’Reilly Factor” brought in around $111 million in advertising dollars over a three-year period.
But advertisers quickly began to feel the pressure from consumers following the Times report and allegations from a sixth woman, Wendy Walsh, who held a press conference two days after the story was published online.
Mercedes-Benz was the first to announce its departure from the show’s ad schedule. “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” spokeswoman Donna Boland said.
In initial responses to the Times’ report that O’Reilly inappropriately propositioned women and retaliated against them when they turned him down, both he and the network issued statements saying no accusers ever called Fox’s internal hotline, an 800 number employees can use to anonymously report concerns.
Following the Times’ report, 21st Century Fox announced Sunday that law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison conduct an investigation into the claims of Walsh, a former guest on O’Reilly’s show who accused him reneging on a promise to get her a contributor deal after she rebuffed his advances.
On Tuesday, civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom said that an African-American former clerical worker at Fox News, who remains anonymous, had claimed O’Reilly leered at her and called her “hot chocolate.”
Bloom, who also represents Walsh, submitted a request for a second, independent probe to the New York State Division of Human Rights.
That request comes as the U.S. attorney’s office in New York is already investigating 21st Century Fox over whether the company properly notified investors about payments made to Ailes’ accusers.
The recent allegations against O’Reilly aren’t the first time he was dogged by claims of sexual harassment. In 2004, O’Reilly settled a lawsuit filed by former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris, which contended that he spoke to her about sexual fantasies and masturbation.
And Fox News has faced an advertiser boycott before. In a campaign led by the racial justice organization Color of Change in 2009, advertisers began leaving former host Glenn Beck’s show after he called then-President Barack Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
But O’Reilly and Fox News weren’t able to weather this latest scandal, which occurred in a different media environment.
“We weren’t in the same type of social media climate that we are in now,” Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, told The Huffington Post earlier this month. “The speed and pace of people’s interest is different because of the participation age ... Companies are hearing from their consumers directly through Twitter.”
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